BERKELEY -- The roots of the coaching tree that spawned new Cal football coach Sonny Dykes reach down to Darrell Royal and LaVell Edwards. But his approach to the game was shaped more directly by less traditional influences.
Perhaps none was more profound than the time he spent with Hal Mumme at Kentucky.
"I hired him twice," Mumme said of Dykes. "He was that good."
In his first stint at Kentucky, as a graduate assistant in 1997, Dykes was charged with finding a solution a year after the Wildcats had five punts blocked. The new coach decided he had to try something different.
"I called Sonny in and said that's your job this summer," Mumme recalled.
Dykes, now 43, devised a scheme where the Wildcats used primarily offensive players on their punt team, which traditionally is manned by players with tackling skills. The change gave Dykes the freedom to smoothly execute offensive plays out of punt formation.
Kentucky ran 11 fake punts that season, Dykes said, and was 3 for 3 against defending national champion Florida.
"We did it from our 8-yard line -- that's how we got famous," Mumme said.
The lesson for Dykes -- under Mumme at Kentucky and later at Texas Tech under Mike Leach -- was to challenge the status quo. Mumme and Dykes are the two coaches credited with borrowing from Edwards' BYU passing attack and creating the prolific "Air-Raid" offense. Already some Cal fans have labeled their new offense the
"What I value most about Hal and Mike is they are out-of-the-box thinkers," Dykes said.
And that's what Cal fans can expect beginning next Aug. 31 against Northwestern at Memorial Stadium -- just about anything.
Dykes' team at Louisiana Tech led the nation in scoring this season at 51.5 points per game, running a fast-tempo, no-huddle spread offense. At times he would flood the secondary with five wide receivers. Other times he'd line up with three running backs.
His quarterback passed for 31 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards, but it was his center who took the signals from the sideline, set the blocking schemes and called the snap count.
"I was really blessed to work with contrasting styles, contrasting personalities," Dykes said. "I think they all prepared me for this position that I'm in today."
It started with his father, Spike Dykes, who spent time working for the late legendary coach Royal at Texas, then took over at Texas Tech, where he became the Red Raiders' first coach to beat the Longhorns six times.
Both Mumme and Leach believe Sonny Dykes is ready for the challenge ahead at Cal.
"His dad coached for years, so he understands football. He sees the big picture," said Leach, now Dykes' Pac-12 rival as coach at Washington State. "He's an easy guy for the players to talk to and he's one of those active-in-the-community fellas."
Dykes and his wife, Kate, have two young daughters. Mumme, 60, now coaching at Division II McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, said Cal fans "are going to love him. It's impossible not to like Sonny Dykes. He's really a lot like Spike."
Spike Dykes, a 74-year-old West Texas legend, said there are differences.
"I'm an optimist," Spike said. "I think he's more of a realist."
Spike watches all of his son's games, either in person or on TV. He marvels at what he sees. "They throw more passes in one quarter than I threw in one season," said Spike, exaggerating but making his point about a team that averaged 44 pass attempts per game this season.
But Spike said his son has his priorities in order. "He understands the educational process of a college football player. I know graduation and class attendance and those things are really, really important to him and not just something that sounds good."
Those issues are critical for the Cal football program as it tries to get its academics in order after a fall report from the NCAA that showed it ranks last among Pac-12 schools in graduation rate.
Born Daniel Dykes in Big Spring, Texas, Sonny spent much of his childhood in Lubbock, where his dad coached at Texas Tech. "He was a fun kid to have around. He played everything, but he was a hard loser," Spike said. "He loved to win, hated to lose."
A two-sport athlete through high school, Dykes gave up football when he got to college. He gave up baseball, his dad recalled, "when those curveballs just got too hard to hit."
Throughout, Sonny was a typical coach's son, a gym rat who attended practices from a young age and sketched out plays in his free time. Even so, he did not initially expect to follow his dad's career path.
"I was kind of like most young guys," he said. "I wanted to do just the opposite of what my dad was doing until I got to that point where I started to say, 'Boy, can I really see my life without football?' "
So he began coaching in high school and junior college before Mumme got a call from Spike Dykes, asking him to give Sonny a job at Kentucky. "I don't care if you pay him," Spike said.
After the 1997 season in which Kentucky beat Alabama for the first time in 75 years, Dykes took a job as receivers coach at Northeast Louisiana. The staff there was ousted after one year, and Dykes was back at Kentucky as receivers coach.
He joined Leach at Texas Tech in 2000 for a seven-year stretch, the final two seasons as co-offensive coordinator. In 2006, Dykes was named the nation's top assistant coach by the All-American Football Foundation. As offensive coordinator at Arizona under Mike Stoops, Dykes helped the Wildcats to back-to-back bowl appearances after a 10-year absence. Then it was on to Ruston, La., where his teams continued to play fast and furious, winning the Western Athletic Conference title in 2011, then going 9-3 this fall.
Now, Dykes and Leach will be reunited as Pac-12 North rivals.
"Cal is going to be good," Leach said. "Of the teams I saw this season, they're easily in the top three as far as being most athletic."
The Bears and Cougars will square off in Berkeley next fall at a date yet to be determined -- and in a high-scoring game sure to exceed four hours.
"It'll be fun," Dykes said.
Cal fans are counting on it.